Remember when the media freaked out for three days over Sarah Palin's completely innocuous use of the term "blood libel"? Nearly every major media outlet took a deep dive on this critical outrage. Millions of Americans learned more about how Jews in the Middle Ages were sometimes falsely accused of kidnapping and murdering Christian children so they could use the blood for ritualistic baking. But more significantly: What did Palin mean? Was she sending a veiled message to evangelical voters? Was it just anti-Semitism rearing its ugly head again?
There will be no such national conversation over Vice President Joe Biden's recent comments. While extolling the virtues of his son Beau at a speech at Legal Services Corp., our Clouseau-esque vice president launched into one of his folksy populist rants.
"When he was over there in Iraq for a year," Biden explained, "people would come to him and talk about what was happening to them at home in terms of foreclosures, in terms of bad loans that were being—I mean these Shylocks who took advantage of these women and men while overseas."
Immediately, the voice of America's aggrieved Jewish community, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), jumped into action with this rather mild condemnation from its national director, Abraham Foxman:
When someone as friendly to the Jewish community and open and tolerant an individual as is Vice President Joe Biden uses the term 'Shylocked' to describe unscrupulous moneylenders dealing with service (members), we see once again how deeply embedded this stereotype about Jews is in society.
There's no need to overreact. It's not as if Biden said, "You cannot go to a bagel store unless you have a slight Yiddish accent." He certainly didn't say, "You Jews are so productive. I don't think you're smarter than anybody else, but you've convinced a lot of us you are." Was he intending to insult bankers as moneylending Jews? Is it an insult? Is there anything wicked about usury? I find it unlikely. I find it improbable he even knew Shylock had anything to do with Jews.
Anyway, Biden apologized. They almost always do. "Abe Foxman," he said in a statement, "has been a friend and adviser of mine for a long time." If only we all had advisers to help steer us from saying stupid things. (It is worth pointing out that as often as the ADL gets overexcited about minor slights, it is equally fawning for no reason. What on earth has Biden done to make himself a "friend" of the Jewish community? Wear a yarmulke once a year? Sign on to work for the least Israel-friendly administration ever?)
When William Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice and created the character Shylock, there hadn't been any Jews in England for hundreds of years, not since they were expelled in 1290—and they wouldn't really return to full rights until the mid-1800s. Shakespeare knew nothing about Jews. There's no need to be offended. Shakespeare is long dead. The Jews are still alive. (Not to mention, I'm strongly pro-Shylock; he was a legitimate businessman screwed over by a technicality.)
So it's not a big deal. Or, I should say, it's as big a deal as the dozens of stories we've had to endure about GOP gaffes. Is there any question that the repercussions for these sorts of mistakes are meted out asymmetrically? There is simply no way a Republican could get away with the buffoonery Biden peddles almost daily. Is the lack of genuine scrutiny over Biden's mistakes a reflection of the media's handling him like an unserious person? If that's the case, then shouldn't the president be open to far more criticism for putting the country in such a precarious position? Or is it that Biden finds himself in the right party?. Either way, it reflects poorly on the media.